Against All Odds
Poet Jessica Poli G’15 has worked her share of odd jobs in pursuit of her craft
Writers often joke that nothing bad ever happens to them; everything is material.
This idea is not lost on Jessica Poli G’15, a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania native found herself at the proverbial crossroads of not knowing what to do next. So she did a little bit of everything—working at an amusement park, at a drive-in theater, in a warehouse.
“I even did a few gigs as a clown,” says Poli, founder and editor-in-chief of Birdfeast, a quarterly online poetry magazine, and poetry editor of the University’s Salt Hill Journal. “I’m the master of odd jobs.”
While Poli may subscribe to the romantic notion of doing art for art’s sake, she certainly has the goods for a professional career. Case in point: Poli was one of only a dozen applicants, from a pool of more than 700 fiction writers and poets, selected to enroll in the English department’s top-ranked M.F.A. program, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As such, Poli walks in the footsteps of some of the greatest poets of the past 50 years, including Julia Alvarez G’75 and Stephen Dunn G’70, as well as University professors Brooks Haxton G’81 and Sarah Harwell G’05.
“Syracuse’s M.F.A. Program is one of the best out there,” says Poli, who has recently worked with two other Syracuse M.F.A. grads on a publication project, called Midnight City Books that focuses on printing handmade poetry chapbooks. “I came here for the faculty and for the rich, supportive writing community. It’s also a beautiful campus—a great place to write.”
Poli reserves special praise for Chris Kennedy G’88, associate professor and longtime director of the M.F.A. program, who also has served as her thesis advisor.
“He’s a great presence,” says Poli, calling Kennedy one of her favorite poets. “It’s been incredible working with him and getting to know him.”
Says Kennedy, the author of four acclaimed poetry collections: “Jess is ambitious in all the right ways. She’s a wonderful poet who’s willing to take risks with her work. I expect her to go on to great things.”
True to form, Poli plans to scrap together various jobs after graduation, including working as a farmhand, while continuing to hone her writing skills.
“What’s great about Syracuse is that I’ve been able to focus on writing for three years, without really worrying about money,” says Poli, alluding to her full scholarship and annual stipend. “Having been able to write like this is something I never have nor never will take for granted.”